July 28, 2010

In baseball terms, a no-hitter is a game in which, by definition, one team does not successfully reach base by means of a hit. It all sounds simple enough. Simple, perhaps, but still rare. In baseball history (since 1875), 268 no-hitters have been thrown. Nolan Ryan holds the Major League record for career no-hitters (seven), but somehow never pitched a perfect game.

Perfection is a state of unadulterated success that few in life will ever enjoy. The achievement resides somewhere between the world of the real and one only inhabited by deities. Only the true immortals ever enjoy true perfection -- or so goes the commonly held belief. Yet in 2010 alone, fans have been privy to five (should have been six) no-hitters, including multiple perfect games. It's been a special year in that regard. However, not all no-hitters, or perfect games for that matter, are created equal.

Fantasy owners cannot allow themselves to be blinded by infrequent success, even if it comes wrapped in a "perfect" package. Sustained success, not perfection, is the gold standard of fantasy production. While perfection may be extraordinary, and no-hitters rare, examining the available data of the pitchers that have thrown no-hitters in 2010 can reveal trends that mark future (fantasy) success.

Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies. Perhaps the least surprising name on this list, Halladay is one of the worst kept secrets of 2010. Already an AL Cy Young Award winner (2003) and two-time 20-game winner, things got turned up a notch for Halladay when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies were coming of back-to-back World Series appearances, and the stage could hardly be grander for one of the game's grandest arms. Under an even brighter light, Halladay has shined. Fully 15 of his starts have produced outings of two or fewer earned runs, a compelling stat for those fantasy owners that thrive on consistency. His May 29 perfect game was merely the icing on a delicious 2010 fantasy cake. While he's "only" 11-8 on the year, Halladay also sports a 2.28 ERA and 140 strikeouts (against just 20 walks). He's the epitome of a fantasy juggernaut, and all that own him should be in awe.

Matt Garza, SP, Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, he pitches in the dreaded American League East, where good pitching seemingly goes to die. Yet, despite this fact, Garza has managed to survive and sometimes even thrive. His 11-5 record clearly shows that Garza can swim with the big fish, even if his 4.06 ERA leaves a little something to be desired. His July 26 no-hitter was Garza's second shutout this month, one that even included a relief appearance wherein he registered a save -- a fact that fantasy owners may not know. After pitching to a 6.43 ERA in June, it's refreshing to see Garza getting back on track for fantasy owners just in time for the dog days of summer. Simply stated, things are looking up.

Dallas Braden, SP, Oakland Athletics. Braden did tow thing baseball fans almost universally enjoy. One, he achieved baseball immorality by pitching a perfect game on May 9 versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Two, he made Alex Rodriguez look like something of a fool for describing Braden as "a guy that has a handful of wins in his career". Granted, Braden's career 19-28 record doesn't do much to highlight sustained success, but for fantasy owners, 2010 is all that matters, and it's been a good year for Braden. While he's battled injuries and failed to register a win in more than two months, he's posted a 3.77 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Moreover, his 3.77 K/BB is better than Roy Oswalt, Felix Hernandez and Chris Carpenter (among others). His home/road splits make him a favorable play when pitching in Oakland and the team seems content with complying with fantasy owners' wishes, as 11 of his 17 starts have come at home.

Armando Galarraga, SP, Detroit Tigers. Galarraga? On this list? Anyone with eyes and access to a television can attest that, yes, Galarraga pitched a perfect game in 2010. In fact, he recorded 28 consecutive outs in what may be the first extra-perfect game in recorded baseball history. Umpire oversights aside, a few things can be said of Galarraga's career. For one, he's clearly not as good, or as significant a fantasy contributor as one Andres Galarraga, he of Colorado Rockies fame. Two, Armando simply isn't a very good pitcher, at least, not in fantasy terms. A 4.43 ERA in 2010 is punctuated by a 5.09 xFIP, meaning he's been somewhat lucky even while mired in mediocrity. The (im)perfect game of June 2 was, for lack of a better explanation, a freak of nature -- not in the Tim Lincecum sense, mind you, but in the way that historians and physicists struggle to explain Paris Hilton's sustained celebrity.

Edwin Jackson, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks. For Jackson to appear on the "for worse" should come as little surprise to anyone. Unlike some pitchers who have artificially inflated ERAs and/or WHIPs, Jackson's 5.01 ERA and 1.48 WHIP are a fairly accurate indication of the kind of fantasy pitcher one can expect. Jackson has recorded an ERA below 4.42 in only one full season (2008), and his career mark of 4.72 indicate that he's a pitcher that frequently struggles to succeed. Even Jackson's 4.27 x FIP in 2010 isn't all that forgiving, even when park factors are considered, nor is it out of line with the middling pitcher he's shown himself to be. Even at his most dominant (e.g. during a no-hitter), he's failed to impress, walking eight Rays hitters on June 25. NL-only owners may have a use for Jackson, but mixed leaguers would be wise to steer clear.

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Colorado Rockies. How is it that the starting pitcher for the National League in the 2010 All-Star Game could be down? Here's how: five of his last six games have yielded four or more earned runs, including three of six or more. Over that same span he's seen his ERA rise from a historic 1.15 to 2.75 -- still respectable but not exactly rewriting the record books. A 4.41 June ERA rising to 7.59 thus far in July illuminates a truly disturbing trend -- not that Jimenez isn't good, no, he's just not infallible, a fact that any sensible fantasy owner already knew. For those in panic mode, it seems as though the time to sell high has passed (long ago), and now it's time to face the fact that Ubaldo Jimenez is a valuable fantasy pitcher, but not a great one.

Damian Schaab is a senior writer for SportsGrumblings.com, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit SportsGrumblings.com today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.

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